Justice Saleem Marsoof, Chairman of the cabinet committee appointed by the then Justice Minister Milinda Moragoda in 2009 to recommend amendments to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of No 1951, handed over the report of the Committee to Thalata Athukorale, Monday morning in the wake of a silent protest by Muslim women’s groups outside the Justice Ministry demanding the release of the report.
Colombo Telegraph learns that the Committee consisting of 18 members including its Chairman and Secretary, had managed to reach consensus with regard to most the issues except three key matters: the appointment of women Quazis, permitting lawyers to appear in Quazi Courts and removal of reference to sect in section 16 and 98 (2) of the Act. Colombo Telegraph learns that in terms of division there is a 9-9 split, with Ash-Sheikh M.I.M Rizwe Mufti, Ash-Sheikh M.M.A. Mubarak, Faiz Musthaha PC, Justice A.W.A Salam, Justice Mohammed Mackie, Shibly Aziz PC, Dr. M.A.M Shukri, Nadvi Bahaudeen and Fazlet Shahabeen submitting together a very brief document with their views on these matters.
The Committee unanimously recommend that the registration of marriage be made mandatory and failure to do so to be made a punishable offense. There was also agreement on issues such as the following: the appointment of women as Registrars of Marriage, the imposition of a minimum age for marriage, enabling of gender equality by reconstituting the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Advisory Board, making provisions for pre-marital counselling, the recording in the Register of Marriages the terms of the marriage contracts entered into by the parties at the time of the wedding (nikah) and including provisions for the bride to sign the Register of Marriage.
Other recommendations where there was unanimous agreement include the upgrading of Quazi Courts and reedfining their jurisdiction and powers by appointing Quazis as full time judicial officers. This would vest the Quazis with the power to implement their orders for the recovery of maintenance without having recourse to any other court as provided in the current Act. They also agreed unanimously to recommend that it be made mandatory for a man seeking to enter into a second marriage to obtain the approval of a Quazi although there is division between the two groups with regard to the criteria to be considered by the court in granting approval.
Colombo Telegraph learns that despite consensus in setting a minimum age for marriage, while one group including the Chairman want to set it at 18 for both males and females, while allowing for the Quazi Court to authorize marriages of a male or female above 16 in the best interest of the particular person where a case can be made that relevant circumstances are exceptional. Another group led by Ash-Sheikh M.I.M. Rizwe Mufti on the other hand has recommended that males be above 18 and females above 16with power to the Quazi to authorize a marriage of any girl below the age of 16 in the interest of such girl.
According to sources, Ash-Sheikh Rizwe Mufti has opposed to women being appointed as Quazis because in his view women are unfit to hold judicial office.
The Media Spokesperson to the Ministry informs that the report will be released to the public only after cabinet and Parliamentary deliberation. Right to Information applications have been made by interested parties to the Justice Ministry in the hope of obtaining copies of the report.